Project Practitioners > Sometimes Basic is Best

Sometimes Basic is Best

By Margaret de Haan

I found myself in an overwhelming situation a while ago where a large amount of Projects, in various stages, got dropped on me to manage with very little documentation and I had very few tools to work with.  When I counted them, I had a total of 17, most of which only had "requirements" and a few hand written notes attached.  I would imagine that with the continuous downsizing of IT departments (let's hope it has slowed or stopped, but only time will tell), many of us will experience this if we haven’t already.  Here is one suggestion as to how to deal with it, fundamentally, one suggestion on how to stay sane and keep track of the churn.

 This situation appeared thanks to the other PM being released from the company. There were no Project Plans, and the Scope documents were doubling as Business Requirements, as well there was no master status other than e-mails and verbal updates through weekly status meetings.  So what was the first step?  Define “As Is”, of course.

I contacted all of the Business Project owners to discuss the current state of the Projects and documented them, including any due dates that were discussed, as well as any key information that had been missing in the current documentation.  Any dates were documented on my personal Outlook calendar, and I set up reminders to “ping” me, when those dates were approaching.  Once that had been completed for all of my “unknowns”, I created a quick reference spreadsheet with all Projects listed, printed it out and placed it by my phone on the wall.  The spreadsheet had nothing more than the Project Name and the columns were used as dates.  Every day, at the end of the day, I added any progress in the spreadsheet column corresponding to that date.  This made sense as going back to all Projects and creating Project Plans would take more time than I had, and many of the Projects were too far along for this to add much value.  The Project list by the phone also allowed me a quick reference that allowed me to review in my mind any outstanding issues that required attention if by chance, I had a spare moment during the day.  This was a very basic and manual “Dashboard”, but given the time and tool constraints, served as a very useful tool to keep all of the “Project balls” in the air.  At the end of the day, I would update status for the Project in the column (no update, no entry), and then during the weekly status meeting with the PMO Director, used it to discuss Project updates.

In working with other Project Managers in the past I have found that many PM’s in the field have gotten so dependent on our usual tools that if they aren’t available, are helpless.  We need to remember that there are many times that we can “Go Caveman”, and fall back on something simple and rudimentary that works.  We don’t always need a Ferrari to get us there, sometimes a bicycle will do.

 Margaret de Haan - MBA, PMP


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